More on the Idaho Stop

I found this video about the “Idaho stop” at Commute By Bike:

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

There’s a growing discussion at Commute By Bike about this proposed law for Oregon.

I do not find this video convincing. I’ve already said I do not buy the efficiency argument. It’s certainly true as far as the physics of bicycle riding goes (unintended irony in the video: it’s only 100 watts, so if bicycle riding is efficient on the go, then it is almost certainly also efficient from stop to speed). I simply don’t think stopping presents any particular hardship. At least I find it rather easy to go from a stop back to my usual 10 to 12 miles per hour cruising speed. At the very worst, I simply find stop signs annoying.

What strikes me about the video is how much more complicated this law makes something as simple as a stop sign. Right now in Missouri it could not be any easier. When you come to a stop sign you stop and wait until the way is clear to proceed. The only judgments you have to make are for right-of-way (the law is clear) and whether the way is in fact clear.

Now, I’m not a fan of stop signs. I’d like to see fewer of them. I’d like to see traffic engineers build traffic calming features into their designs and “complete the streets” for all road users, i.e. making road use safer and more efficient for everyone. I’d like to see us build proper bicycle infrastructure that gives priority to bicyclists. But until the day we decide to fix our streets and/or create a separate and superior bicycling system, I think bicyclists are better off operating with the same rights and responsibilities as the drivers of motor vehicles.

Here’s a question this video raises for me: Just how many people choose not to ride a bicycle because they feel burdened  by stop signs?

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Comments 11

  1. robert wrote:

    I agree with you. I find the arguments to be ridiculous. Honestly, I think most of the pro-Idaho stop people have never actually stopped at a stop sign to know how hard or easy it is.

    My average day is about 15 miles or 5000 miles per year. Much of that is pulling a trailer. For example, on Saturday I pulled a trailer with 50 pounds of photography equipment 40 miles. I stopped at every stop sign. Its really not a big deal.

    If we wanted to be honest we would say that we want the Idaho stop because we feel entitled. We do not want to be slowed or be bothered and we certainly do not want to deal with anything not specific to us.

    Sounds a little like the angry motorist comments I read in our newspaper everyday.

    Posted 17 Apr 2009 at 10:25 am
  2. Keri wrote:

    Spot on, Robert!

    This nonsense about the Idaho stop is all about entitlement and wanting to be special and exempt from the laws the govern motor vehicle traffic.

    Check out what’s happening in the Texas legislature regarding the “safe passing” law to see how quickly the “majority” can backlash on cyclists.

    Posted 17 Apr 2009 at 1:47 pm
  3. robert wrote:


    Thank you! Its nice to know that not EVERYONE thinks I am crazy. See the last comment section. lol

    Posted 17 Apr 2009 at 2:02 pm
  4. Keri wrote:

    Yeah, I saw…

    I don’t think people get the additional confusion, frustration and animosity this will cause. If bike advocates really had some concern for the overall community, they’d lead the fight to replace gratuitous stop signs with yield signs and restore some intelligence back into traffic management. Cyclists are going to fare much better doing something to benefit everyone in the community instead of trying to get an advantage for ourselves.

    Start screwing with “same rules” and lets see where our rights end up.

    Posted 17 Apr 2009 at 3:44 pm
  5. Coy wrote:

    Dear Andy,
    I’m would NOT consider momentum a big issue riding 1 mile or 2.5 mile distances.

    I just can’t wait till you are 60 some odd (and getting to where even that is going to be hard to claim), with a heart condition (which I really wouldn’t wish off on anyone), and you are doing 20 mile round trip commutes.

    Full stops are inefficient for motorists and bicyclists. We do need to trade a lot of our stop signs for yield signs. I think I read somewhere this week that only 22% of motorists do a full stop at stop signs. Maybe I turned this around and it was 22% that didn’t. Still, this is a huge amount. If I find this information again, I’ll write it down.

    I still like the European idea of treating as many intersections as possible like a roundabout. In this country, at these intersections you would treat this as a 4-way Yield and you would yield to the vehicle approaching the intersection from your left. This is so common in some areas of Europe & / or UK that there is a 4″ (that’s right, inch) diameter circle painted in the center of the intersection and no signage at all. A lot of places have no markings at all, and it works!

    Posted 17 Apr 2009 at 4:36 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Coy… I’m all for the structural/cultural changes you’ve identified. I don’t like stop signs. What I like is having the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of any car given the current state of roads in America.

    As for age, well, I’m 52 🙂 and I do at least 10 miles per day around town along stop-sign-infested streets. Would I like to glide along without stopping? You bet I would. I simply think that should be accomplished with structural changes — like those you identified — and not by treating me differently from the driver of a car.

    Posted 17 Apr 2009 at 4:48 pm
  7. Kevin Love wrote:

    Quite frankly, I do not see that this is that big of a deal. The Idaho stop is totally non-controversial in Idaho, and has been since 1982. I predict that, if tried, it would be quickly non-controversial wherever it was given fair a trial.

    So why not give it a try? If it causes problems, it is easy to go back to the way things were before. It is not like scrapping expensive infrastructure.

    It never ceases to amaze me how reluctant people are to do cheap experiments to see what works.

    Posted 17 Apr 2009 at 7:56 pm
  8. Andy Cline wrote:

    Kevin… I’m sure the law “works.” I just don’t think it solves any real problem.

    Posted 18 Apr 2009 at 7:42 am
  9. Keri wrote:


    I’m more interested in solving the problem of improper use of traffic control devices.

    Stop signs used for traffic calming have become political crack cocaine. The result has been a devaluation of the device and a degradation of roadway safety.

    In a previous post’s comments it was mentioned that a study showed poor motorist compliance with stop signs. Instead of looking at that as a rationalization that cyclists are better behaved than motorists, we should be looking at is as an indicator of a broader issue:

    Stop signs are being used where they are not necessary for their intended purpose. Road users are compensating by treating them as yield signs (or simply ignoring them). This is not necessarily unsafe, if they are actually yielding. But as the sign becomes increasingly disregarded, the meaning of it becomes lost, drivers become sloppy.

    American drivers no-longer respect stop signs, they don’t know what a yield sign means, and they have become very lazy at scanning for opposing traffic in residential areas.

    A similar problem is happening with no-passing zones (double-yellow lines). They are so badly overused that they are almost completely ignored. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a motorist cross the center-line on a blind curve or hill, I’d be rich. But then the double-yellow is there on the long straightaways too. It has no significance (except when people get mad at cyclists because think they can’t cross it to pass us even though the sight-lines are good enough to do so… but that’s another topic.)

    What’s happening is that our traffic engineers have been tailoring roadway design and TCDs to the lowest-common-denominator of poor decision-makers. And then, the natural human inclination toward risk-compensation creates increasingly bad decision-makers. This is similar to what’s happening with the 85th percentile rule of allowing motorists to decide what the best speed limit is for a given road.

    Changing the law to allow cyclists to treat TCDs differently (because most do anyway), is similarly a step toward degrading the system.

    Posted 18 Apr 2009 at 9:09 am
  10. Andy Cline wrote:

    Keri… Agreed. Now, how can we get cyclists on board with changing the entire system to make it better/safer for everyone?

    Posted 18 Apr 2009 at 9:59 am
  11. Keri wrote:

    The only thing I know to do is what we’re doing… cutting to the core of issues and writing about it. Hopefully some people read it and see a bigger picture.

    But frankly, as long as cyclists (and bike advocates) are distracted by short-term shiny objects, we’re unlikely to keep their attention with long-term strategies.

    I find it interesting that cyclists in Oregon would put so much effort into this when Oregon has discriminatory laws restricting cyclists’ access to the road. Talk about screwed-up priorities.

    Posted 18 Apr 2009 at 1:00 pm